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New knowledge center for supercritical CO2

The University of Groningen and the Hanze University of Applied science will host a new knowledge center for the use of supercritical carbon dioxide, both in industry and SME’s. The center is funded by a €3.8 million grant from the Province of Groningen and SNN Northern Netherlands Alliance.

The project proposal was written by University of Groningen Professor of Product Technology Francesco Picchioni, Martin Tietema, CEO of Foamplant, a biodegradable foam company in Groningen and Klaas Zijlstra from Asqa Subsidies. ‘We have collaborated on several projects’, explains Picchioni. ‘And then, Martin came up with the idea to look for funding to create a knowledge center for the use of supercritical CO2. Klaas helped me in giving form to the project and writing the actual proposal’

Supercritical CO2

Supercritical CO2 (scCO2) is a liquid and a gas at the same time and can be used as a solvent. It is produced by heating liquid CO2 to 31 degrees Celsius. ‘My first experience was in using it in extrusion of polymers’, explains Picchioni. ‘Later, with professor of Chemical Engineering Erik Heeres, I have used it as solvent for chemical reactions, for example the modification of starches.’ And scCO2 can also be used for drying: first, you replace the water with scCO2, then you let this evaporate. ‘For all these different uses, we have specialists, which is quite unique.’

Using scCO2 can lead to lower energy consumption in chemical processes, and it can replace organic solvents. In both cases, the procedure become more environmentally friendly. ‘Both at the UG and Hanze, there are a number of specialists in the use of scCO2’, says Picchioni. ‘This grant allows us to appoint some 8 PhD students and buy the necessary equipment.’ Equipment for both research and industrial use of scCO2 is costly, which is a barrier to its use in SME’s. A barrier which this grant removes.

As part of the project, four workshops per year with specialists from the UG and Hanze will be organized for SME’s. ‘These will cover technical and societal aspects.’ A special program will also explain how scCO2 can contribute to a biobased and circular economy to secondary school pupils.

Apart from Foamplant, the potato and starch company Avebe is also involved in the project. And many other businesses in the Northern region have expressed interest. Longbloom will use it in the production of preserved flowers. ‘And we there is some interest to use scCO2 to extract fragrant oils from rose petals.’

All SME’s, but also larger companies like Avebe or DSM, are welcome to participate. ‘Together, we are moving into uncharted territory’, says Picchioni. ‘For all participants, this means that the specific products on which they use scCO2 are theirs, but the general procedures we develop will be shared. This shouldn’t be a problem, as all participants use it for different purposes.’

The project will run for 3.5 years. Any interested companies can contact Francesco Picchioni for more information on how to participate.

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